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Bone Marrow Cancer Symptoms

Bone Marrow Cancer Symptoms

The nature and severity of bone marrow cancer symptoms may vary with the type, location, and size of the tumor. Here is a brief overview of such symptoms.
Sheeba Nambiar
Last Updated: Jan 29, 2018
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Bone marrow is a spongy tissue found inside bones, and it is home to stem cells that produce red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. There are two types of bone marrow - red marrow, which consists of hematopoietic tissue, and yellow marrow that consists of fat cells. Half of adult bone marrow is red and the other half is yellow.

Cancer of the Bone and Bone Marrow: Cancer of the bones can be of different types. Primary bone cancer starts from the bone, and they are called sarcomas. Metastatic bone cancers originate in some other location, but spreads to the bone. The bone marrow located inside bones may develop certain types of cancer. The most common type of bone marrow cancer is multiple myeloma that causes bone tumors. Leukemia is another type that is commonly known as blood cancer. In case of leukemia, the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells. These cells don't function properly and they accumulate, thereby affecting functioning of other types of blood cells. In some people, lymphoma (malignant lymph tissue) may start in the bone marrow, instead of lymph nodes.

Common Symptoms of Bone Marrow Cancer
  • Persistent pain in the bones
  • Anemia
  • Lump on the bone
  • Swelling, tenderness and stiffness of bones
  • Difficulty in walking and moving
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness and dizziness
  • Weight loss
  • Low resistance to infections
  • Unexplained bone fractures
These are some of the general symptoms of bone marrow cancer, irrespective of the type. Given below are some types of bone marrow cancer and their symptoms.

Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma is a cancer that affects white blood cells called plasma cells. These abnormal plasma cells accumulate and infiltrate the bone marrow and erode the hard outer shell of bones, thereby causing osteolytic lesions or multiple holes. The condition makes the bones fragile and more prone to fractures. The abnormal myeloma cells prevent the bone-forming cells from repairing the damage caused to the bones. In case of multiple myeloma, the tumor cells release osteoclast-activating factors which cause bone damage. These cells produce 'M protein' that can cause kidney failure.

Symptoms of multiple myeloma include bone pain (mainly concentrated on the back, hips, chest, and skull), weakness, anemia, hypercalcemia, frequent fever and infections (mostly develop in the respiratory tract), nausea, weight loss, constipation, frequent urination, blood clots, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, skin lesions, confusion, bone fractures, etc.


There are different types of leukemia depending on the type of blood cells that get affected. White blood cells are more often found to be affected with cancer. Leukemia is also classified depending on the speed at which the disease progresses. If it develops quickly and consists of immature cells, the condition is called acute leukemia. When it consists of more mature and abnormal cells, and progresses at a relatively less speed, it is called chronic leukemia. Listed below are the four types of leukemia.
  • Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)
  • Acute Lymphocytic (lymphoblastic) Leukemia (ALL)
  • Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML)
  • Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)
Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

Usually, the bone marrow produces unformed cells called blasts, which develop further into white blood cells that fight infections in the body. In case of AML, the blasts are abnormal and they do not develop into white blood cells, which means that the body cannot fight infections. These abnormal cells tend to grow quickly, reducing the number of normal white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets, which are essential for the body. They can also spread quickly to the blood, and affect other locations.

Symptoms of this condition include fatigue, frequent infections, fever, night sweats, shortness of breath, frequent bleeding from the nose and gums, paleness, rashes and lesions on the skin, headaches, weight loss, bone pain, enlarged lymph nodes, swollen belly, abnormal menstrual periods, etc.

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)

It is a cancer of the white blood cells called lymphocytes. The condition is characterized by immature white blood cells that block production of regular marrow cells. This leads to reduction in the count of red cells, white cells, and platelets, thereby affecting their regular functioning. This cancer develops quickly and is common in kids.

Acute lymphocytic leukemia symptoms include pain in bones and joints, headache, fatigue, night sweats, fever, shortness of breath, frequent infections, nosebleeds, pale skin, enlarged lymph nodes, etc.

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML)

Similar to acute leukemia, chronic leukemia is also classified into chronic myeloid leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Chronic myeloid leukemia is caused due to the growth of abnormal cells, and most of the people affected with this condition have a gene mutation called Philadelphia chromosome.

Some of the common symptoms of this type of cancer include weakness, excessive sweating, fatigue, loss of appetite, easy bruising and bleeding, weight loss without any reason, and fever. Besides these, the person may have a swollen spleen causing pressure under the lower left ribs.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

B-cell lymphocytes are produced in the bone marrow, and are essential constituents of white blood cells that fight infections. CLL affects these B-cell lymphocytes by damaging their DNA, thereby preventing them from producing antibodies.

Many of the signs and symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia often show up during the later stages, and they include weakness, anemia, enlarged liver or spleen, swollen lymph nodes, unusual bruising and bleeding, and frequent infections.


Lymphoma is a cancer that affects lymphocytes, a type of white blood cells that circulate in the blood stream and is part of the lymphatic system (a part of the immune system). Usually, most cases of the primary lymphoma of the bone are found to be Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. In rare cases, the condition can be Hodgkin's lymphoma. Most of the affected people have a single localized tumor that causes symptoms like bone pain and swelling.

This is only a brief overview about the common types of bone marrow cancer and their symptoms. Seek immediate medical attention, if you develop any of these symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment is very important for curing cancer.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.